NDP’s Bill 32 fails to deliver on promise to get dark money out of Alberta politics

Alberta Liberals say Bill 32 is a half-measure, and not the comprehensive regulation of Political Action Committees (PACs) needed to get dark money out of Alberta politics.

“The NDP told us to expect better, and we expect better,” says Alberta Liberal Leader David Khan. “This is clearly an elections amendment act with a section on third party advertisers added at the last minute in response to pressure from Alberta Liberals and Bill 214, An Act to Regulate Political Action Committees.

“Simply put, our bill is a better bill and will do a better job of getting dark money out of politics.”

Bill 32, An Act to Strengthen and Protect Democracy, includes of a series of common-sense measures aimed at improving voter access, which Alberta Liberals strongly support. However, it also contains what appears to be a rushed attempt to fix the loopholes left open by the NDP that are being exploited by political action committees.

“This is an omnibus bill that does not allow Members to support one aspect without the other,” says Liberal MLA David Swann. “Bill 32 should be split in two – one with reforms to the Elections Act, and another amending the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act.
“Nonetheless, Bill 214 remains the most comprehensive regulation of political action committees in Canada. It should be passed or adopted entirely into the government’s legislation.”

Among Bill 32’s key failures:

  • Political Action Committees are not mentioned at all. The government makes no attempt to define PACs as distinct from all other third party advertisers.
  • The Independent Election Commissioner can only conduct investigations into third party advertising, not PACs. If third parties do not advertise, there is still no accountability in terms of registration, contribution limits or disclosure requirements.
  • Prohibitions on government advertising allow for ongoing advertising, further infrastructure spending announcements, and a strange exemption for matters before the Assembly, which could easily be exploited by using government backbenchers to raise topics the ruling party plans to promote.
  • Spending limits outside of an election period have been struck down in BC as unconstitutional. This is further complicated by Alberta’s fixed election period. The NDP should have heeded the Chief Electoral Officer’s advice to set a fixed election day to reduce unnecessary confusion and uncertainty.
  • Weak anti-collusion provisions regarding incurring a campaign expense leave loopholes for other political promotion activities.
  • Refined regulations of third party advertising still permit corporate, union and out-of-province donations to PACs outside of an election period.

“Bill 32’s preamble says it is intended to keep corporate and union money out of politics, but it fails to do this,” says Khan. “Only Bill 214 defines political action committees as distinct from other third parties and has the regulations needed to get dark money out of Alberta politics once and for all.”